Constipation refers to the infrequent or difficult passing of stool. It is the most common digestive complaint yet, is treated as a symptom, and not a disease by itself.
Constipation may be interpreted differently by different people. Some refer to it as infrequent bowel movement while for others it is difficulty in passing stool. Some people feel constipated if their bowel movement is incomplete. In some cases, constipation may accompany diarrhea, as in the case of the irritable bowel syndrome. It is therefore essential that constipation be viewed from these different perspectives and treated accordingly.
The frequency of bowel movement, among healthy people, varies greatly ranging from three movements a day to three times a week. If more than three days pass without bowel movement the condition gains clinical significance. During such time, the intestinal contents may harden, and a person may experience difficulty or even pain during defecation.
Constipation occurs among all ages, from newborns to elderly persons. However, this condition is more common among the elderly. Women experience this problem more than men.
The most common cause for constipation is a diet poor in fibre and low in fluid intake. There may be other causes as well such as pregnancy, medications, lack of exercises, emotional stress or even diseases. Colonic inertia and pelvic floor dysfunction can also cause constipation. Even habit has a role to play as ignoring the urge to pass stool can also result in constipation.
The affected individual may have the urge to pass stool but is unable to do so. This may result in discomfort and a bloated feeling in the stomach, stomach pain or cramps, headache, lethargy and vomiting. If constipation accompanies loss of appetite, vomiting, cramps, rectal bleeding or weight loss it requires immediate medical attention. Chronic constipation, which is long- lasting, does not require immediate medical attention and can often be relieved with the help of simple remedies.
Diagnosis of constipation is fairly simple. A medical history and a physical examination may be mandatory. This may be followed by laboratory tests such as blood, urine or stool tests and thyroid function test. A colonoscopy, or a barium meal enema X-ray may also be required .All these tests can help to detect underlying causes, if any, behind the condition.
Treatment of constipation depends on the underlying problem. Various kinds of laxatives are available to treat the condition. But they must be used only as the last resort. In some cases enemas, suppositories or surgery may be required. If pelvic floor dysfunction is the cause of constipation, a biofeedback training for the patient is the ideal choice of treatment.
Managing constipation also includes lifestyle changes. A balanced diet with loads of fibre, fruits and vegetables along with the regular intake of 8 glasses of water a day and moderate exercises can do wonders to manage the condition.
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